By Eric Griffith
March 7, 2005
Netgear first announced its RangeMax products back at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but as of this month, the line will be with retailers. It includes a router, CardBus PC Card, internal PCI adapter, and an external USB 2.0 adapter.
The claim to fame of this hardware is the BeamFlex technology of Video54. It’s an overlay that works with Wi-Fi chips from any vendor (in this case, Atheros). It utilizes multiple internal antennas—seven, specifically—to create up to 127 different antenna patterns.
“The beauty of the technology in RangeMax is that the router can automatically sense the conditions of the wireless environment and will auto-adjust and adapt to ensure the best signal is being transmitted between the router and clients,” says Vivek Pathela, senior director of product marketing for consumer products at Netgear.
He claims that during internal tests, the RangeMax products have outperformed products from Belkin and Linksys using TRUE MIMO chips from Airgo Networks, both in terms of throughput (up to 48Mbps vs. low 40s in real-world speed) and signal range (going as far as 495 feet when others topped out at 340). At closer ranges, he says “other MIMO doesn’t do well—they can’t adapt with their antenna.”
The companies do refer to BeamFlex as a “Smart MIMO” technology. What exactly MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) is, is up for debate. Netgear and Video54 say MIMO is any link with multiple antennas on each end being used at the same time.
Airgo Networks wants a very strict definition of the term, namely, two radio signals in the same channel carrying different information (AKA spatial multiplexing). That’s not what RangeMax provides. However, Pathela says RangeMax uses a different MIMO, under the principle of antenna diversity. By using antenna diversity, he says, “a client with RangeMax diversity will work with 802.11n, with or without spatial multiplexing turned on,” claiming that use today of spatial multiplexing means that the unit won’t be able to talk to future 802.11n products unless they “dummy back” to the current 802.11g specification.
Airgo— which has MIMO patents to protect—says otherwise, and feels that use of the term for anything other than spatial multiplexing is not only diluting the term, but a form of piracy.
Spatial multiplexing is also a component of the MIMO proposal of the World Wide Spectrum Efficiency (WWiSE) group to the IEEE 802.11n Task Group. Airgo is a key member of WWiSE.
Note that Netgear is also an Airgo customer, though—it’s selling a router and PC Card using TRUE MIMO chips in Japan where there are some regulatory restrictions. Some are also sold in business channels in the U.S.
“This is not about ‘MIMO yes or no’—it’s about what customers benefit from in legacy environments with legacy clients,” says Pathela. While the full benefit would come from coupling RangeMax clients with the RangeMax router, he says there’s still a 50 percent increase in performance with standard G products. “If you get stuck at 80 feet with a standard G client, you can go 120 feet or more with a RangeMax [router].”
Because BeamFlex is an overlay, the products will also be able to take advantage of certain aspects of the Atheros Wi-Fi chip, specifically some of the Super-G speed boosts as well as Atheros eXtended Range technology. Pathela says BeamFlex doesn’t interfere with any of the Atheros extras.
The new Netgear RangeMax products are shipping into retail channels now. The router will be $149 street, with each adapter at $99. Each product has been certified for interoperability with 802.11g by the Wi-Fi Alliance—testing that was done with the BeamFlex technology turned on.